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Twice in the last few weeks I was all riled up and feeling the need to blast out posts on how everyone needed to stop freaking out and pay attention to real risks and not the scream du jour. But before I could even get to it, there was Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post, doing it for me. He saved me the trouble, and made it much easier to write this week's Healthcare Triage News.

For those of you who want to read more, go here:

John Green -- Executive Producer
Stan Muller -- Director, Producer
Aaron Carroll -- Writer
Mark Olsen -- Graphics


Twice in the last few weeks, I was all riled up and ready to blast out posts on how everyone needed to stop freaking out and pay attention to real risks, and not the scream du jour. But before I could even get to it, there was Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post doing it for me. I need to thank him for saving me the trouble and making it much easier to write the script for this week's Healthcare Triage News.

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 Story 1

First up is the horrific train accident on the East Coast, and let's acknowledge that it's a horrible tragedy, okay? It's also totally reasonable that it captured our national attention. I can't even fault people for being concerned that our rail infrastructure might need some updating, although I don't think it's clear yet that that was the cause of the crash.

But then I started hearing from people complaining that rail travel was unsafe, period. Or, at least, unsafe compared to other forms of travel. You hear the same sort of thing whenever there's a plane crash, even though that's, like, the safest way to travel. And you all know that I hate when people ignore that car travel is pretty much the unsafest way to go, especially since accidents are the number one killer of children.

So I planned to make a chart on how all these things compare to each other. But there was Christopher Ingraham on the case already. Yes, trains are less safe than planes, buses, or subways, but still way safer than driving. There are more than 7 people killed per 1 billion passenger miles, compared to less than half a person by train.

So deciding to cancel that 150 mile train trip and drive instead would not be rational. Thanks, Chris!

 Story 2

And then, more recently, he took on laundry pods. Those are those little prepackaged detergent things for the dishwasher or laundry. There were news stories in the fall about how kids were going to the ER in droves because they were eating them.

I wanted context. How many is "droves"? And how does this compare to other panics? Not long ago, people were all in a tizzy about Plan B, worrying that it would be taken inappropriately and people would overdose. President Obama remarked at the time that people were concerned that kids would be able to buy a medication alongside of bubble gum or batteries. And at the time, I wrote this:

"All drugs, when improperly used, carry significant effects. In 2009, there were over 70,000 calls to poison control centers for concerns about acetaminophen and more than 88,000 for ibuprofen. More than 30,000 calls were made for diphenhydramine, and 4 of those cases resulted in deaths. Just looking at kids 5 years of age and under, there were more than 130,000 calls for analgesics, 53,000 for vitamins, 48,000 for antihistamines, and 45,000 for cough and cold preparations. And yet, no one seems to be too concerned that these medications could be purchased 'alongside bubble gum and batteries.' And, for the record, battery ingestions killed 4 kids in the age group that year."

It's all about context. So I planned to write a post on how calls to poison control for laundry pods compared to other things. But there was Christopher Ingraham, on the case already.

As you can see here, calls for the usual suspects--acetaminophen, multivitamins, etc.--are way more common. Even other cleaning products are responsible for way more calls than laundry pods. 

And of the 11,000 laundry pod calls in 2013, only 54 resulted in a major injury, and only 2 resulted in death. In fact, only 29 kids aged 1 to 4 died of all accidental poisonings in 2013. Guns and assaults killed way more. Car accidents killed 454.

We need to keep these things in perspective. Chris is helping.


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